Not many people have heard of Susan Kare but we all see her work every day, as she designed many of the pixelated interface elements, fonts and icons of the early Mac OS, some of which survive to this day. Her Chicago font was used for years as the main interface font before Mac OS X, and continued in use in the first four generations of the iPod interface.
Maybe her most famous icon was that Apple used for its Command Key – also known as the Apple Key, and occasionaly the Pretty Sqiggle Key.
Many of her ground-breaking icon designs – such as the Lasso, the Grabber and Paint Bucket – are now standards in software interface design.
Steve Jobs loved her work so much that he employed her as Creative Director when he founded NeXT after getting pushed out of Apple in 1985. Later she sold her soul working for Microsoft, so that its products could look even more like the Mac.
Japanese American Guy Kawasaki was one of the original team that marketed the Macintosh in 1984. Later he became known as an Apple Evangelist – a position that became necessary when Apple booted evangelist-supreme Steve Jobs out of the company in 1985 – spreading the word of Mac to software developers so that they would continue to write programs for the platform. Kawasaki is now a venture capitalist and blogger, and is not known for his modesty. His blog is entitled “How to change the world”.
The highlights of every Mac fan’s year are the product announcements made by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. In the terrible interregnum years between 1985 and 1996 when Steve languished in the wilderness, product announcements were bundled together in closed-door sessions with tech journalists – sometimes months in advance of launch date. Apple’s non-Steve CEOs would still handle keynote speeches at the twice-yearly Macworld Expo (January San Francisco, summer Boston), but they were deadly-dull affairs.
That changed when Steve returned. His product announcements were already legendary. In 1983 he announced the Macintosh with supreme showmanship and fanfare, debuting the now famous ‘1984’ TV ad directed by Ridley Scott. Dressed in dicky bow and suit he quoted Bob Dylan and promised to end the hegemony of industry giant IBM.
People would queue all night for a chance to witness a ‘Stevenote’, as Steve’s keynote speeches were known. There was room a for a few thousand in the auditorium, but the front sections were reserved for “Apple VIPs”, Apple employees and, pointedly to one far side, the media.
I sat in the front couple of rows a few times, and was once knocked to the floor by Steve Wozniak rushing to hug Jobs after one keynote. I was offered this privileged position – in the first rows, not on the floor at the feet of the two Apple founders – because of my job as Editor of Macworld, which put on the massive Expo and therefore hosted the keynote. When Apple pushed us aside as show organiser I had to cower in the far-off Media section, and a new super-elite “Apple VVIP” status was bestowed on the chosen few.
(In 2001 I found a better seat in the Deaf section of the hall – mirroring Steve’s own predisposition to park his car in the Disabled spots of Apple’s campus carpark. We were given full sign language coverage of Steve’s speech, except when he announced the launch of iTunes, which held no special interest for those sitting around me.)
Steve’s show is an ultra-slick affair but dressed down as a casual chat among friends. The crowds are expected to whoop and cheer at every amazing sales statistic, and faint in the aisles when a new product rises from the stage.
To give Steve a little rest every now and again his comedy sidekick Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, takes over. In 1999 Steve had him jump from a great height into a stunt bag to show how sturdy the new candy-coloured iBook laptop was if dropped from a great height with a senior member of Apple’s executive team. Why Phil? Can you imagine the indignity of Steve leaping off a crane onto the stage. It goes to prove that when Steve says “Jump”, everyone at Apple jumps. To be honest if he’d told the audience to go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge half of the people there would have done just that.
The most anticipated part of a Steve Jobs keynote comes right at the end. Although we all know it’s going to happen Steve almost makes as if to leave the stage but then turns in a hammy fashion to announce “But there’s one more thing”. This is when he announces a product or service that has the crowd in such raptures that the attendees in the wheelchair section get up and run down the aisles, and the public start weeping with orgiastic joy for such delightful surprises as the AirPort Base Station, iPod shuffle, MacBook Air and Safari for Windows (bit of a damp squib that last one, to be honest).
Steve is so careful about his big presentations that he refuses to use PowerPoint. It’s too corporate, too boring and it’s made by Microsoft. Ok, it would be funny if it crashed mid-keynote, but that would just point a finger at Mac Office instability in front of the watching world. No, Steve needed something much more cool, friendly and wizzy. So he got Apple’s software guys to write a presentation program just for him. It had razor-sharp charts to show off the company’s billion dollar profits and marching upwards market share. It had transitions that were as cool as the G4 Cube. And no one else had anything like it – until Apple released it to the world in 2003. In 2005 it became part of mini-office suite iWork. In its folksy way the Keynote icon is a wooden lectern with a pile of notes on it – quite the opposite of how Steve gives his presentations, striding from one side of the stage to the other, sitting at a desk or at the end plumped into a luxury sofa.
While all the other versions of Mac OS X are named after ferocious big cats, the Public Beta of the operating system was code-named Kodiak - after a type of brown Grizzly bear.
In 1987 John Sculley, then Apple CEO, came up with an idea for a book-sixed tablet device called the Knowledge Navigator that can access a worldwide network of hypertext information using a touch-based gesture and speech interface. The user can have the device serve him or her newspaper articles, play videos (presumably not in Flash), navigate in maps and sayellite imagery, calendar meetings, and deliver messages from friends and colleagues. It’ll never catch on.
Click on these letters to continue the Apple A-Z.